By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
CERRITOS — Attorney Harunobu Ernie Nishii was one of three members of the ABC Unified School District Board sworn in on Tuesday night at the ABCUSD building in Cerritos.
Composed of 10 preschools and 30 schools, the district serves more than 21,000 K-12 students in Artesia, Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens, and portions of Lakewood, Long Beach and Norwalk along with 10,000 Adult School students.
Nishii, who was sworn in by Superintendent Dr. Mary Sieu with his wife, Young Choi, and daughter, Yuri, at his side, was elected to represent Trustee Area 3 in November, defeating the incumbent, Lynda Johnson, former school board member Armin Reyes, and public affairs consulting firm CEO Daniel Fierro.
Also sworn in were Soo Y. Yoo of Trustee Area 2, who was re-elected to a second term, and Olga Rios of Trustee Area 6. All three members were accompanied by their families.
“I have newfound respect for this board,” Nishii said after receiving his official ABC badge and pin. “You have worked so hard for our community. You’ve dedicated yourself to loving thy neighbor, not for glory, not for money. You’re just being a humble servant to our future and our kids, and I truly respect, admire and honor each one of you …
“I thank each of the candidates for the races that they ran. We told our residents what we stood for, but in reality we all stood for the same thing — we all stood for our kids. I respect Lynda Johnson for the years of service that she had to the board, for providing bridges to all aspects of our community.
“And I thank our Superintendent of the Year, Mary Sieu, who is so passionate about our kids. She has 20,000 kids that she’s responsible for. But when she talks to one, she talks to that one passionately and earnestly, and she makes them feel special. And that’s how you make our district really special too.”
Nishii expressed gratitude to the voters and joked that he would walk the neighborhoods to thank each of them personally. He also acknowledged his supporters, including the Girls Scouts, Southeast Japanese School and Community Center, CEC (California Educational Centers), LEAP (Leal Elementary School Arts Program), block watch groups and farmer’s markets.
Looking back on the campaign, Nishii said that he learned that voters are really smart. “You don’t get a pass, no one. You’ve got to prove yourself … Doesn’t matter who you are … Every time you knock on that door, you have a great opening argument, you have to have evidence to support it … They don’t care about your title or money or color. You could be Filipino, African American, Chinese, Korean, you could be any group. What they’re interested in is our community … You can’t talk less and smile more. You actually have to tell them what you want to do.”
He also learned that passion really counts, citing those who worked on his campaign. “My volunteer coordinator, who every day worked hard after everybody had gone home … making calls, figuring out what I’m going to be doing next. And the treasurer, of course, who does all the hard work quietly in the background.”
To the kids who helped out, including his daughter, he said, “You’re the reason I’m doing a lot of this for. With passion we turn this world upside down.”
Lastly, Nishii said he learned that the “overused” statement “It takes a village” turned out to be true. “My father-in-law and my mother-in-law graduated from Seoul National University and Ewha. Those are the Harvard and Yale of Korea. Those are the best schools. And they gave everything up to come to this country, start at the very bottom, and they helped build a family … they sacrificed. And when I decided to run, they’re back there sacrificing, making my daughter’s lunches, taking up all the slack … Without my in-laws, I could not have done any of this. They are truly my mom and dad now that my mom and dad are not here.
“My wife … who walked with me in the hot sun, listening and advising and supporting and telling me, ‘Don’t forget to tell them your name’ … Truly I couldn’t have done this without you. All the stapling and writing … being my guiding star and my sounding board. And it’s not easy for her [due to physical limitations], but her spirit is willing and her courage is outstanding. Truly she’s my inspiration.”
Nishii paid tribute to his mother, Ernie Jane Masako Nishii, who passed away on June 15 at the age of 78. “Do you guys remember in junior high school [being] always embarrassed about your parents?… That was my mom. But it didn’t stop in junior high school. My mom was a dancer … She danced as if no one was watching but everyone was. She was messy like spaghetti, but she was loved and she would constantly demand from me that I love my brother, that I love people and have passion. She was an artist …
“I realized what she did in her art, how she touched people’s hearts. I realized she wasn’t so crazy after all, that the best time I had with the voters and the people of our community was when I was passionate, when I could talk to their heart and not just their head. That’s when people were convinced that I was the right person for them …
“To have better facilities, better schools, better equity, we must embrace each other not just with our brains here but with our hearts. That’s what art does. We have art and music … If they were just notes on a page, they’d be nothing. But to have it in your heart will truly let us as a board become unified to provide for our kids, for our schools, be passionate for our kids.”
In addition to his in-laws, Nishii was joined by his brother Matthew; aunt and uncle, Nancy and Kay Oda; and cousin Sharlene Miyagishima.
During a meeting held immediately after the ceremony, the board officers were elected: Yoo as president, Leticia Mendoza of Trustee Area 1 as vice president, and Rios as clerk. The other members are Christopher Apodaca of Trustee Area 7 (immediate past president), Maynard Law of Trustee Area 4, and Sophia Tse of Trustee Area 5.
Several local elected officials, including Cerritos City Councilmember Frank Aurelio Yokoyama, and representatives of state legislators presented commendations to Apodaca for his tenure as board president.
The Gahr High School Jazz Band opened the program. The ceremony was followed by a reception, after which the board meeting continued into the night.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo